Their goal of pushing for a return to national greatness also meant calling to mind the glory days of Dutch history when the Netherlands had been a major power. This meant that they were not opposed to the Dutch monarchy, indeed they drew inspiration from many past members of the House of Orange and, most significantly for our purposes here, they wanted to see the strengthening and expansion of Dutch power around the world. This meant that they wanted to strengthen their position in the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia) and to annex Flanders and French Flanders to create a “Greater Netherlands”. This would, of course, necessitate the break up of the Kingdom of Belgium and the NSB intended for the vast Belgian Congo to become a Dutch colony and, if possible, for the Netherlands to regain control of South Africa by restoring the Afrikaner republics as Dutch colonies united with their ancestral homeland. They expected to be a close ally of Germany but nothing more, pursuing their own national interests on the world stage. However, their friendship with the Nazi Party proved a double-edged sword.
The decline in support for the NSB came at around the same time, roughly 1936 and afterwards, that the Nazis began to eclipse the Italian Fascists as their primary source of inspiration. Racial rhetoric and anti-Semitism began to appear and became increasingly common though never on the same level as these subjects dominated political discourse in Germany. One area of concern in this regard was the Dutch East Indies where the NSB had some sizeable support before the war. This is not surprising given that one of the primary concerns of the NSB was to strengthen and enlarge the Dutch colonial empire and so, naturally, they were not without support in the largest and most important Dutch colony. However, the Dutch East Indies was also home to a sizeable minority of mixed-race people who, like the Anglo-Indians for the British, were quite important to the smooth operation of the colony which constituted the vast majority of the Dutch empire. There was considerable concern that the racial rhetoric would damage the support for the NSB in the East Indies. As it turned out, that would prove the least of their problems.
|Future Dutch Queen Juliana with exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II|
The Nazis occupied the Netherlands and, naturally, turned to their biggest local fans in the NSB for support in running the country and dealing with the local population. This brought about a dramatic change in how the NSB was viewed and by what the role of the NSB was to be in the destiny of the Netherlands. Formed in reaction to the Great Depression, the NSB had garnered much of its support from presenting an alternative to communism and Mussert had addressed record crowds to talk about an alternative to the alien ideology of communism and the recently discredited model of capitalism. However, as soon as the war touched the Netherlands, a war no one expected, least of all the NSB which thought the Nazis would never attack, bomb and invade their Germanic racial brethren which was also neutral, until they did, Mussert immediately got in touch with the Nazis and offered his country up for annexation by Hitler’s Third Reich and even proposed leading a secret mission to kidnap Queen Wilhelmina and present her to the Germans.
|Anton Mussert, doing his best to look the part|
Nonetheless, Mussert remained devoted to Hitler, even publicly swearing personal allegiance to him and urged his people to do the same. In June of 1940, at a mass gathering, he called on the Dutch people to rally behind him in supporting Hitler and the German war effort and to renounce their allegiance to the House of Orange, the Dutch monarchy and the government-in-exile in Britain. The Dutch were thus given a choice and it was made very stark for them; Mussert or Queen Wilhelmina. Mussert had been the nationalist leader pledging to strengthen and expand the Dutch empire but now was more about having a favored position in German-dominated Europe so long as they behaved themselves. Hitler, it must be said, did little to encourage such expectations and never allowed Mussert any position of real importance. He was not the head of state, he was not the prime minister and was only allowed the sort of honorary title of “Leader” but with no official position or power to go along with it. On the contrary, the Germans would eventually show more favor to other NSB members who were more pro-German and anti-Dutch, one even proposing to replace the Dutch language with German.
|Dutch recruiting poster for the SS|
|Japan invades the Dutch East Indies|
|Queen Wilhelmina during the war|
Mussert had enough sense to see this and when the Dutch East Indies was invaded he appealed to Hitler to use his influence to get the Japanese to back off, to call off his “Honorary Aryans” in favor of actual Aryans as the Nazis might put it. Again, Mussert was ignored and Hitler and Mussolini quickly declared war on the United States in solidarity with their Japanese ally. Did this have an impact on the Dutch who were fighting alongside the Germans? Obviously, it could not have helped. Friction over Dutch officers being replaced with German ones in the Dutch SS volunteer legion had caused many to resign and the Dutch suffered heavy losses around Leningrad after being reformed in the spring of 1942. Later, their nominal commander, a former high ranking officer of the Dutch military, Lt. General Hendrik Seyffardt was assassinated at home. After their enlistments expired in the spring of 1943, by which time the Japanese had seized the Dutch East Indies, most refused to reenlist to fight with the Germans. Due to the lack of recruits, the legion was disbanded in May of 1943. When Mussert tried to protest against the reprisals taken by the SS after the murder of Seyffardt, Hitler would not even see him.
The Dutch spent the last winter of the war starving and freezing as the Allied Operation Market Garden failed and the Germans cut off all supplies to punish their racial cousins. The only relief came from 11,000 tons of food dropped by American and British aircraft. Not long after, the German forces remaining surrendered and soon the Queen returned, met by a rapturous welcome. Interestingly enough, after Mussert was convicted and sentenced to death, he appealed to Queen Wilhelmina to spare him. The Queen he had renounced his allegiance to, the Queen he encouraged his people to abandon, the last hope Mussert had was for her to use her royal powers to spare his life. However, Queen Wilhelmina was not that sort and Mussert was executed by firing squad. He died for his persistent allegiance to a German ruler who never trusted him nor made any objection to the stripping away of Dutch territory. Queen Wilhelmina, on the other hand, would spend the end of her reign fighting to maintain the Dutch colonial empire in Southeast Asia, even while her own allies betrayed her and the business elites of the country criticized her for not conceding.
|Dutch colonial troops march against Japan|